Students from Yampa to Maybell learn importance of river in first youth water summit
Steamboat Pilot & Today
More than 400 students from Yampa to Maybell gathered in Hayden on Wednesday, Sept. 21, to learn about something none of them can live without.
The first-ever Yampa Youth Water Festival presented by the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District brought together every class of fifth graders in Routt and Moffat counties to learn about the Yampa River, how the water is used, and how they can preserve it as a resource for generations to come.
Holly Kirkpatrick with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, who has been working for months to pull together the event, said teaching students about water is one of the best ways to help a Colorado River in crisis.
“It’s no secret that we’re in a water crisis right now,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re an integral part of the Colorado River system, and teaching students how important that is, at this age, and getting them involved early on is one of the best things that we could do for the Colorado River Basin as a whole.”
The day of activities featured 26 different stations that walked students through the cycle of water from when it falls from the sky as rain or snow, to the animals that live in and around the river, to the physics of water.
At the start of the day, scientists from the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at the University of California San Diego launched a weather balloon that delivered real time data for students to work with.
“Growing up, I didn’t know any of this,” said Garrett McGurk, with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. “Trying to get kids involved at this age is really cool, just so they have some sort of understanding of what’s going on, how we measure these things.”
One station introduced students to endangered fish species like the razorback sucker and the bonytail chub, allowing students to handle the fish and learn about how they help clean up the Yampa.
“They play a very important part of the ecosystem — they’re like little vacuums out there cleaning our local rivers,” said Mike Gross, a fish culturist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Anywhere from three to five million years these fish have been swimming around the Yampa River, and that is confirmed by fossils.”
A station with the U.S. Forest Service talked about the anatomy of fish, why some fish have different shaped bodies and how those adaptions help them thrive in the Yampa. Another station with Friends of the Yampa used data to make hydrological graphs showing historical flows of water in the Green and Yampa rivers.
“It’s a great period in which to talk to them at a point where they haven’t made up their minds about how water works,” said Lindsey Marlow, executive director of Friends of the Yampa. “Our mission No. 1 is just to make people aware of how unique the Yampa is.”
A station with Routt County’s Colorado State University Extension Office taught students how much water they eat everyday.
Students also learned about treating water and how pollution flows to the waterway in sessions with water officials from Steamboat Springs and Hayden. Tyler Hockaday, wastewater treatment plant operator in Hayden, said not only is teaching students about these systems important, it could also help get more people into water related fields.
“If we can get kids interested in the processes, how it works, and then get them trained up, maybe when they graduate, instead of going and being an IT guy, they would want to make water for their town,” Hockaday said.
Andy Rossi, general manager for the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, which presented the event, had perhaps the most fun station, teaching students about Newton’s laws of motion and explaining how they come in to play with water. He said the event, which the district hopes to hold each year, allows them to reach more students than they could on a tour of Stagecoach Dam.
“We just want to make sure that every kid in our basin gets a chance to explore the science of water, because it is so important to their futures,” Rossi said. “If we can get kids excited about science or biology or whatever they see here today — awesome.”
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